NYPD called in to handle crowds amid train power problem

NEW YORK — New York City commuters dealing with up to 60 minute train delays Tuesday evening were temporarily restricted from accessing Penn Station because of crowding conditions.

An Amtrak power problem in one of the East River tunnels Tuesday is causing evening delays and cancellations on the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit.

The NYPD temporarily shut down access from 34th Street and Seventh Avenue, CBS New York reports. About a half hour later, the LIRR tweeted that access to the station had been restored.

Delays up to 60 minutes on the New Jersey tranist system persisted since the Tuesday evening rush began at Penn Station due to the overhead wire problems. Long Island Rail Road customers were also advised to anticipate delays and cancellations due to a separate Amtrak power problem in one of the East River tunnels.

Commuters now have no confidence that on any given day, America’s busiest train station will be in good enough shape to get them to their destinations, WCBS-AM reported.

“All you need to do is look back in the record of the news for the last couple weeks, and the story tells itself,” one frustrated rider said.

That all followed 45-minute in the morning on four New Jersey Transit lines after the Amtrak train got stuck on the tracks. Some trains were also diverted to Hoboken, New Jersey.

Riders say the delays have become routine — and they have had it.

“I’m very disappointed that I pay an outrageous amount in fairs they keep increasing throughout the year, and everybody’s paying and we get horrendous service, horrendous reasons why there’s always cancellations or delays every single day,” said Bart Pan-Kita of Summit, New Jersey.

Pan-Kita said the delays were costing him an arm and a leg in extra parking fees for where he parks to get to the train, and also for a babysitter for his children.

“Tell the guy in Washington take the money that he’s going to use to build that stupid wall, and fix the railroads in this country,” another commuter added. He said he had stopped counting the number of times he has been delayed, but he is approaching the 100th day.

“You get to work in a bad mood, you come home in a bad mood, so there’s no dealing with it but praying and meditating,” commuter Anthony Torres told WCBS-AM earlier in the day. “It’s the only way I’ve been getting through it.”

Tuesday’s incident is just the latest in a series of disruptions NJ Transit riders have faced in recent weeks.

Just this past Sunday, an Amtrak train broke down in the Hudson River tunnel while leaving Penn Station. Amtrak said Empire Service train No. 233 to Albany became disabled due to engine failure sometime around noon Sunday, and a total of 238 passengers found themselves stuck.

Passengers said the lights on the train flickered and stopped.

Two days before that on Friday, problems with an Amtrak signal stalled traffic in the tunnel, disrupting service between Newark and New York’s Penn Station during the Friday morning rush.

A week earlier, a disabled NJ Transit train led to delays at Penn Station and across the area during the evening rush hour. Approximately 1,200 passengers were trapped on board for three hours without lights, water or instructions.

On top of that, as frustrated passengers crowded the platforms that evening, Amtrak police used a Taser on a suspect — which some people mistook for the sound of gunshots. Terrified travelers ran in fear for their lives, leaving behind luggage, clothing and even shoes. At least 16 people were injured as they fled what they thought was a terrorist attack.

And earlier this month, a NJ Transit train derailed at Penn Station, leading to four days of crowded and canceled trains, making for chaotic commutes. Eight tracks were out of service while crews made repairs, impacting NJ Transit, LIRR and Amtrak riders.

That incident came just 10 days after an Amtrak train derailed and scraped against a NJ Transit train.

“I always anticipate problems on Amtrak,” rider Marc Offenbach told CBS New York.

“It just seems there’s been problems all of April,” said rider Vito Ziccardi.

The recent train derailments at Penn Station highlighted the need for major work to the area’s infrastructure. Half a million people travel through Penn Station each week.

Ziccardi says it’s all downright frustrating.

“I don’t think it’s fixable,” he said. “I think that what’s going on is that our infrastructure is crumbling, money hasn’t been put towards it, and let’s not forget that Christie killed the extra tunnel.”

Christie canceled the Arc Tunnel Project in 2010, and claimed to save taxpayers money. That project would have added a second tunnel to augment the current, 110-year-old tunnel.

But last week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called on the federal government to fund the Gateway Tunnel Project, which would also create a new tunnel under the Hudson River. Christie a day earlier also told NJ Transit to stop paying rent to Amtrak, its landlord.

Now, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority may go a step further and sue Amtrak.

“I think there are some opportunities to pursue legal redress against Amtrak,” said Mark Hoffer Esq., LIRR vice president, general counsel and secretary.

Always colorful board member Charles Moerdler did not hold back when it came to Amtrak’s management of Penn Station.

“It is doing a lousy job, and that’s a compliment to it,” he said.

But what will such actions do to solve the immediate problems commuters face right now?

“Suing ain’t really going to change the problem,” said Long Island commuter Victor Rivera. “They’re still going to be dealing with the same issues no matter what. So, I don’t think suing is anything more financial thing.”

Transit expert D.C. Argrawal said the solution may be a plan hatched back in the 1990s — called the One Penn Station Plan, where all transit agencies worked as a team.

“I think the three agencies will have to sort of come together and figure out a role for each one of them, both in operations and in financing ,” Agrawal said.

He said with a One Penn Station Plan, if NJ Transit or the LIRR track needed fixing, approval for the work would not need to go through Amtrak as it does now — because labor agreements would already be in place prior and work would get done quicker.

CBS New York reached out to Booker to see what progress has been made in Washington, D.C., since his news conference last week. He said he has been in touch with the Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and she will come to New York and New Jersey to check out the infrastructure and review the Gateway Project.

There was no response from Christie on Tuesday.

In addition to Tuesday’s incident, NJ Transit says riders traveling to and from New York can expect delays of 15 minutes on weekdays and 30 minutes on weekends due to Amtrak track maintenance work and track inspections until further notice.

Penn Station is the nation’s busiest train station, and the LIRR and NJ Transit, individually, have the nation’s highest ridership on any commuter railway.

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